Losing Tim

Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia

PAUL GIONFRIDDO
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/gion16828
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  • Book Info
    Losing Tim
    Book Description:

    Paul Gionfriddo's son Tim is one of the "6 percent" -- an American with serious mental illness. He is also one of the half million homeless people with serious mental illnesses in desperate need of help yet underserved or ignored by our health and social-service systems.

    In this moving, detailed, clear-eyed exposé, Gionfriddo describes how Tim and others like him come to live on the street. Gionfriddo takes stock of the numerous injustices that kept his son from realizing his potential from the time Tim first began to show symptoms of schizophrenia to the inadequate educational supports he received growing up, his isolation from family and friends, and his frequent encounters with the juvenile justice system and, later, the adult criminal-justice system and its substandard mental health care. Tim entered adulthood with limited formal education, few work skills, and a chronic, debilitating disease that took him from the streets to jails to hospitals and then back to the streets.Losing Timshows that people with mental illness become homeless as a result not of bad choices but of bad policy. As a former state policy maker, Gionfriddo concludes with recommendations for reforming America's ailing approach to mental health.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53715-5
    Subjects: Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. one TIM BRINGS A GUN TO SCHOOL
    (pp. 1-14)

    On wednesday, November 20, 1996, my son Tim brought a gun to school. He thought he had a good reason—he was angry with another student. He was eleven years old and in the sixth grade. He had been diagnosed with a mental illness earlier in the year.

    That morning, as he waited for the school bus, he pulled the gun from the bush in which he had hidden it the night before. As the bus pulled up, he put the gun in a brown paper bag inside his book bag. When he arrived at school, he went straight to...

  5. two TIM GETS HIS START
    (pp. 15-32)

    Tim was seven weeks old in May 1985 when my then-wife Linda and I adopted him. As we began the process, we had no idea that we were walking into such controversy. I had grown up with three siblings and around twelve first cousins and hoped to have several children of my own. Linda agreed. And as she worked in direct service to people with developmental disabilities, she thought she could handle a child with special needs. I thought so, too. We had discussed it at length over many months as Linda tried to get pregnant, and we finally decided...

  6. three OUR INTRODUCTION TO SPECIAL EDUCATION
    (pp. 33-56)

    When the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was enacted in 1975, two of its key provisions were that all children were entitled to a “free appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment” possible. The EHA was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, and this federal law governs special education services to this day. In addition to requiring that each student with special needs receive an Individualized Education Program, the IDEA requires schools to take into consideration a student’s disability before imposing disciplinary measures, including suspensions and expulsions. It also gives parents the right...

  7. four A NEW SCHOOL, A NEW CRISIS
    (pp. 57-72)

    I steeled myself for a meeting with Tim’s principal, special education teacher, and classroom teacher at his new elementary school in late August. But this principal was a special education expert, and the meeting could not have been more different from the ones to which I had become accustomed. Everyone from the school was knowledgeable about Tim’s IEP and was on the same page. His IEP was in place. The computer was in his classroom, and someone would train Tim to use it. An aide was assigned to Tim’s classroom to help meet his needs and the needs of other...

  8. five SUSPENDED ANIMATION
    (pp. 73-92)

    Tim’s behavior in the summer between fifth and sixth grades was distracted, disagreeable, and disturbing. His organizational problems were almost comical. He attended a couple of two-week summer day-camp sessions. He would leave home in the morning wearing shorts, a shirt, socks, sneakers, and sometimes a sweatshirt, carrying a backpack with a bathing suit and towel, and he would return home in the late afternoon with any combination of these things missing. He might have on his bathing suit and a borrowed shirt but be missing his shorts, sweatshirt, socks, towel, and sometimes even his shoes. The backpack would also...

  9. six ROCKETING THROUGH MIDDLE SCHOOL
    (pp. 93-100)

    Tim was almost thirteen years old when he transferred to the sixth grade in Middlefield, Connecticut in January 1998. Middlefield was a small, rural community with a less socioeconomically and racially diverse population than Middletown. The transition was difficult for all of our children. There were few children of color in their schools, and our children tested the racial sensitivities of the district. Regarding Tim, a teacher wrote to me: “He is blending in very well” and “making some eye contact with teachers now.” I thought these were odd ways to describe the only African American male student in the...

  10. seven HIGH SCHOOL COOKS UP TROUBLE
    (pp. 101-110)

    Cooking and football—those were the two things in which I placed my hopes as fourteen-yearold Tim entered high school. I had many reasons to be concerned about the high school years. Academically, Tim was significantly below grade level. He had low self-esteem, rebelled against rules and authority, and made poor choices in friends and acquaintances. During the past year, as a result of his more emergent bullying behaviors and his inability to conform to rules, he had received two new diagnoses: a personality disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. This was in addition to his previous diagnoses of ADD, depression,...

  11. eight WEST TO THE NORTHWEST
    (pp. 111-124)

    My current wife, Pam, and I met in October 1999 at a Kids Count conference in Baltimore sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Pam was from Austin, Texas, and ran the Kids Count project in that state. I was working for the Connecticut Association for Human Services, the Kids Count grantee in Connecticut. We sat next to each other at dinner on the first night, and I paid attention as she shared stories with another woman at the table about her teenage daughter, Verena. Verena was coming out of a rebellious, blue-haired phase of teen life, and many of...

  12. nine HOSPITALIZATION FROM THE NORTHWEST TO MIDDLETOWN
    (pp. 125-144)

    “TIM HAS BEEN having auditory hallucinations including command voices which direct him to hurt others,” was the key statement that got Tim admitted to the small community psychiatric hospital about an hour away from the boarding school.

    The psychiatrist there—who was also the staff psychiatrist at the school—wrote that Tim’s “most recent intense hallucination was when he was in a conflict with staff and when another peer was restrained on the unit. He indicated that he heard voices indicating that he should jump in and stop the restraint.” When I first read that passage, I didn’t doubt that...

  13. ten TIM COMES TO AUSTIN
    (pp. 145-158)

    Tim flew to Austin with his siblings in late July, eighteen days after Pam and I were married. For the first month of our marriage, we had all five children with us—seventeen-year-old Verena, sixteen-year-old Tim, fifteenyear-old Larissa, twelve-year-old Lizzie, and eleven-yearold Ben.

    We all had some adjustments to make. Tim had spent most of the last year in locked facilities where all his daily routines were regulated. Now he decided when to eat, sleep, bathe, and come and go. Austin was a new community for him, culturally different from both central Connecticut and the northwest. Pam was also a...

  14. eleven AMERICORPS AND THE CHAIN OF NEGLECT
    (pp. 159-170)

    Tim attended high School 6—our local public high school—for one month to attempt to complete his freshman year. It was too late in the year to schedule a PPT meeting, so the school enrolled Tim in the classes that most closely matched those he had been taking at the small private school and then filled in the rest of his schedule and forgot about him. Tim’s favorite “class” at High School 6 was “office assistant,” a period during which he sat in the main office and waited until someone gave him something to deliver to a classroom. He...

  15. twelve TIM BEGINS ADULT LIFE
    (pp. 171-186)

    At his last high school, Tim had completed an “Interest Profile” that examined what he might have become if he did not have mental illness. According to the profile, he had plenty of options. He could have been a military intelligence officer, a geological technician, a general farm worker, a fire inspector, a nuclear monitoring technologist, a movie camera operator, a physicist, a stone mason, a taxi driver, a private investigator, or a medical lab technician.

    When Tim was discharged from the Austin hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in late January 2003, he was tall and handsome. He...

  16. thirteen TIM HITS THE REVOLVING DOOR
    (pp. 187-198)

    The phrase “revolving door” was already part of our mental health policy vocabulary in the early 1980s, but then it meant that when we released someone from a state hospital into the community, he or she often just went right back in again. Today, we have added a few more stops—courts, jails, the street, and community hospitals and services—but a lot of people still seem to end up right back where they began.

    When Tim was a young child, I once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A hobo!” he exclaimed.

    As a...

  17. fourteen LAUNCHING TIM
    (pp. 199-216)

    I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I made the year before. Tim needed help to succeed on his own. And by now, I had a pretty good idea about what that help should be. First, Tim needed to rely more on mental health professionals to help him meet his day-to-day needs and less on his homeless friends. Second, these professionals needed to facilitate a formal collaboration of housing, legal services, law enforcement, and community-services providers in arranging for and carrying out services for Tim. In other words, Tim needed integrated services, led by a mental health professional. And...

  18. fifteen TIM RETURNS TO MIDDLETOWN
    (pp. 217-226)

    Tim’s return to middletown was not the homecoming he had hoped it would be. His old school acquaintances had moved on into their adult lives, his family was scattered, and the neighborhoods in which he had grown up were no longer his home. Nor was he free to do as he pleased. Service providers and the police were an ever-present part of his life.

    To get him started, we found him a local service provider, River Valley Services. It offered short-term shelter and a drop-in center, along with case management and other services for people with mental illness. I appreciated...

  19. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 227-242)

    Two weeks after Pam and I visited with Tim in Middletown, he was featured in the local newspaper as a “downtown neighbor,” one of the colorful local characters whom people recognized along Main Street. My sister sent me a copy of the newspaper. It published Tim’s picture and job status—“always looking”—as he gazed skyward. I tried to reach Tim to congratulate him, but I couldn’t locate him. Neither could anyone else.

    I finally received an e-mail from him in late June. He was not in Middletown, but he wouldn’t say much more. “Oh noble one,” he wrote grandly,...

  20. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 243-244)
  21. REFERENCES
    (pp. 245-250)